AAS Workshop: Modest Aperture Space Telescope Astronomy in the 2020s

Workshop at the 240th meeting of the American Astronomical Society, Saturday/Sunday, June 11/12, 2022, Pasadena, California. Sessions will include UV Science Programs, IR Science Programs, Sensor Technology Advances, Autonomous Operation, Buses, Launch, and Communications, Student and Citizen Science Research, and Organizing for the Future.

On the verge of an astronomy CubeSat revolution

CubeSats are small satellites built in standard sizes and form factors. When deployed as space-based telescopes, they enable science experiments not possible with existing or planned large space missions, filling several key gaps in astronomical research. Unlike expensive and highly sought-after space telescopes such as the Hubble Space Telescope, whose time must be shared among many instruments and science programs, CubeSats can monitor sources for weeks or months at time, and at wavelengths not accessible from the ground such as the ultraviolet, far-infrared and low-frequency radio. CubeSats may also pair with the large space- and ground-based telescopes to provide complementary data to better explain the physical processes observed.

Student Space Telescope Network

This study proposed that a network of small space telescopes be constructed, deployed, and operated to produce astronomical data to supplement the capabilities of ground-based robotic systems currently used for student astronomical research. To maximize scientific capability and minimize program cost, the team decided to investigate the feasibility of seeking student involvement in developing a network of small-satellite space telescopes as the baseline space-based asset for gathering astronomical data.

CubeSat Astronomical Telescopes and Research in the 2020s


A 2020s CubeSat astronomical telescope revolution could evolve small space telescopes from their current nascent state, to becoming a major contributor to astronomical research, similar to the evolution of small ground telescopes. The same inclusive community of practice facilitated a process that resulted in small ground telescopes becoming full research partners and could be emulated in the development of small space telescopes. Four programs could enhance this evolutionary process: (1) developing a CubeSat autonomous telescope constellation for astronomical research, (2) advancing CubeSat telescope technology, (3) encouraging CubeSat telescope one-offs, kits, and commercial ventures, and (4) nurturing an inclusive and supportive CubeSat telescope community of practice. By the end of the decade, CubeSat telescopes could open up the direct use of space telescopes for astronomical research to a large number of professional astronomers, citizen scientists, and students.

Stella Splendida: Building the science and engineering workforce of the 21st Century

Stella Splendida, from the Latin meaning “bright stars”, aims to achieve worthwhile science at an affordable price, but also training the next generation of scientists and engineers while they are still in school as undergraduates. It is a fact of modern life that many colleges are able to design, build and operate small satellites. These satellites are capable of carrying telescopes of order 10-20 cm in diameter, with no further technology development. Our project’s central idea is to use these small systems to make long duration, time domain measurements on the brightest stars in the sky. Stella Splendida is envisioned to be a distributed space-based observatory comprised of elemental telescopes, CubeSats, built and operated by a university teams comprised of science and engineering students.

Enabling and Enhancing Astrophysical Observations with Autonomous Systems

This paper includes the following so that the astrophysics community can realize the benefits of autonomous systems: a description of autonomous systems with relevant examples, enabled and enhanced observations with autonomous systems, gaps in adopting autonomous systems, and suggested recommendations for adoption by the Astro2020 Decadal Survey.

The Star-Planet Activity Research CubeSat (SPARCS)

The Star-Planet Activity Research CubeSat (SPARCS) is a NASA-funded astrophysics mission, devoted to the study of the ultraviolet (UV) time-domain behavior in low-mass stars. Given their abundance and size, low-mass stars are important targets in the search for habitable-zone exoplanets. However, not enough is known about the stars’ flare and quiescent emission, which powers photochemical reactions on the atmospheres of possible planets. The SPARCS payload consists of a 9-cm reflector telescope paired with two high-sensitivity 2D-doped CCDs. The payload will be integrated within a 6U CubeSat to be placed on a Sun-synchronous terminator orbit, allowing for long observing stares for all targets.

ASTERIA (Arcsecond Space Telescope Enabling Research in Astrophysics)

ASTERIA is a technology demonstration and opportunistic science mission to advance the state of the art in CubeSat capabilities for astrophysical measurements. The goal of ASTERIA is to achieve arcsec-level line of sight pointing error and highly stable focal plane temperature control. These technologies will enable precision photometry, i.e. the careful measurement of stellar brightness over time. This in turn provides a way to study stellar activity, transiting exoplanets, and other astrophysical phenomena, both during the ASTERIA mission and in future CubeSat constellations.